Social enterprises are taking inspiring new approaches to assist disadvantaged youth, by creating educational and employment opportunities that rebuilds their confidence, develops their skills and helps them experience a more fulfilling future.
For most, the words “social enterprise” bring to mind a big-name company with a buy-one, give-one product model like TOMS or Warby Parker. But for some organizations, the term has grown to represent a larger movement—one that provides direct educational and employment opportunities for underprivileged members in their community.
Over the last few decades, many social ventures have expanded to not only focus on the creation of a product, but to create transformative opportunities as well. From a restaurant run by a celebrity chef in London to an artisanal soap shop in San Diego, California, these three organizations are using the “homeless to hopeful” model to create platforms with life-changing possibilities.
Finding a home and an opportunity
San Diego, California, is perhaps best known for its sunny beaches and perfect weather. But like any metropolitan area, the coastal city is not without its share of social issues. An estimated 3,000 young people are living on the streets of San Diego, many of whom have little or no opportunity for work or education. Since 2008, members of the Urban Street Angels, a local volunteer group dedicated to assisting the homeless, recognized the gravity of this issue within their community and decided to do something to help. Their desire to help led to 8 West.
8 West strives to eliminate local youth homelessness through an unlikely source: organic, handcrafted soap. The organization offers local disenfranchised youth the training necessary to craft and market a number of bath products, made from natural ingredients like charcoal and Moroccan red clay. But 8 West’s 18-month workplace program does more than just offer its artisans the opportunity to learn valuable skills. As participants in 8 West’s program, these young people are also provided with basic services like supportive housing and assistance with the transition into long-term employment.
Kevin Ledgard, 8 West’s chief financial officer, believes that the real success for a social enterprise like 8 West is not in how much product they’re selling, but rather in the process.
“Ending youth homelessness requires a sustainable solution that actually provides opportunity and hope,” Ledgard says. “A warm meal and a bottle of water helps to ease suffering in the moment, but opportunity to leave the streets behind for good requires hope and a hand up.”
That hand up can make a life changing difference for many of the young people who walk through 8 West’s doors. Through their rehabilitative program, 8 West continues to create a safe space where its participants can develop a sense of autonomy, trust, and self-worth. And although it is still a relatively new endeavor, the program’s commitment to helping young people has already produced several successful transitions. The organization is aspiring to help over 100 young people transition into longer-term employment by 2020.